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European Issue n°190

Political Splits and Compromise in the European Parliament: voting in Strasbourg (Part Two).

Political Splits and Compromise in the European Parliament: voting in Strasbourg (Part Two).

4 Votes on Social, Agricultural and Environmental Issues

Social, agricultural and environmental issues are of particular concern for citizens and therefore also for MEPs. Although there is a relative consensus over environmental issues, social matters lead to a left-right split whilst those pertaining to agriculture are the source of a certain amount of national sensitivities.

4.1 Environment: Resolution on preparations for the Copenhagen Summit (25th November 2009)


The prospect of the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009 provided Parliament with an opportunity to vote on the Union's strategy following debate with the Commission and the Council. The Council had however obliged Parliament to make changes to its programme which, a priori, was not to the latter's advantage. Notwithstanding this, the non-legislative resolution was demanding: it called on the Union to adopt a 40% goal for the reduction of its CO2 emissions by 2020 (instead of the current 20% goal with a possible extension to 30%) and put forward the figure of €30 billion per year by 2020 for the Union's annual financial contribution (which the Council refused to publicly discuss). However, as a concession to the most conservative actors, it demanded commitments from emerging countries and mentioned nuclear energy and the carbon market as possible solutions.
The resolution was visibly the product of negotiations between the political groups and was supported by the EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens/EFA and ECR groups, i.e. 70% of MEPs – only the EFD group officially opposed it. The GUE/NGL group gave no voting instructions due to internal disagreement, even within the national delegations, over the level of demands made in the resolution. [2] Moreover, there were several defections or divisions within the EPP group (division of the German delegation, opposition on the part of the Hungarians, abstention by the Austrians) and ALDE (the Germans notably abstained). Likewise, only 54.2% of the ECR MEPs present (48.1% of its members) followed the positive voting instruction, since the Polish delegation was against the 40% goal [3], adopting their country's position within the Council. In spite of the transpartisan compromise between the political groups, a left/right split between "national delegations" can be observed amongst the Hungarians (defection of 12 EPP MEPs), the Germans (defection of 24 EPP MEPs, 10 against and 14 abstentions, 11 ALDE MEPs also abstained), the Austrians (defection of 6 EPP MEPs who abstained) and the Polish (defection of the ECR MEPs). Cohesion was higher amongst the S&D group (95.69% in comparison with 66.46% for the EPP group), [4] who seemed to be a key source of inspiration behind the resolution. also suggests that a left/right split is increasingly visible with regard to environmental issues. [5] Hence, behind an apparent consensus, both national and European political dissensions have emerged.

4.2 Social Affairs: working time of independent lorry drivers (16th June 2010)


Voting on social issues is an area in which the left/right split is most visible in the European Parliament as seen in the vote over the regulation of working time for independent lorry drivers. The latter were temporarily excluded from the directive on working time in road transport activities (which established a maximum weekly limit of 48 hours), but the Commission proposed in October 2008 that the exemption be maintained. The rapporteur, Edit Bauer (EPP, HU) wrote a report supporting the Commission's position but this was rejected by the "Employment and Social Affairs" Committee. [7] The Parliament confirmed the parliamentary committee's position by two votes in plenary:
the adoption by 368 votes (301 against, 8 abstentions) of an amendment rejecting the Commission's proposal, [8]
then the adoption by 383 votes (263 against, 23 abstentions) of a legislative resolution [9] asking the Commission to withdraw its project, which would lead to the end of the exemption.
These votes are rare cases of tight votes (50% of the members in favour of the amendment, 50.9% for the resolution) and were pushed through by the Parliament's left wing (S&D, GUE/NGL and the Greens/EFA). Although the ECR, EFD and ALDE groups voted against, within the EPP, which officially called to vote against, the national delegations were all deeply divided. The majority in favour can in fact be explained by the swing in favour of large proportions of the French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek and Bulgarian delegations in the EPP. Apart from the southerly location of the countries concerned, the unions of these countries have allegedly also exercised pressure [10]. Conversely, a high percentage of negative votes can be seen amongst the Hungarian, Polish, Finnish and Estonian MEPs since they had a large share of centre-right MEPs (EPP and ALDE) voting against. One can thus identify a twofold geographical split: on the one hand between Northern and Southern Europe and, on the other hand, between the "former EU15" and the "new Member States".
However, "national alignments [11]" might only be observed among the Hungarian, Polish and French MEPs – and even this is stated with reservation. Concerning the Hungarian MEPs, 86.4% were against the amendment but only 54.5% against the resolution. With regard to the Portuguese, the decrease in the number of EPP MEPs in favour of the resolution in comparison with the amendment (likewise for the Spanish EPP MEPs) suggests that there might have been pressure on the part of the political group which thus decreases the relevance of the theory of alignment out of "national interest". As for the French, not only did 25 EPP MEPs (out of 29) join the Socialist, Green and Communist MEPs but so did 5 ALDE MEPs (exceptions in their group) and an EFD MEP (for the amendment). However the fact that the non-attached "National Front" MEPs voted against the resolution may contradict the hypothesis of an alignment in the name of "national interest".

4.3 Agriculture: Council Regulation on the Milk Market (22nd October 2009)


Although the Lisbon Treaty introduced co-decision with regard to agricultural issues from 1st December 2009, [13] the Parliament had already been consulted [14] on Council's regulations creating or modifying agricultural "common market organisations" (CMOs). Since the milk market experienced a crisis in 2009, its CMO was adapted and the Member States were allowed to compensate producers who gave up production. [15] Parliament supported these measures in a vote on 22nd October 2009 in the backdrop of upcoming discussions on post-2013 CAP reform.
The legislative resolution was approved by 65.4% of the members from the EPP, S&D, ALDE and ECR groups. The Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL groups voted against, whilst the EFD group was divided and 34.6 % of the non-attached abstained. As is often the case with regard to agricultural issues, [16] national sensitivities rose to the surface. Hence this vote is a rare case of evident national alignment since 84.6% of Danish MEPs voted against, with the EPP, S&D and ALDE Danish MEPs breaking away from their groups. Indeed, Denmark is known for its desire for in-depth reform of the CAP [17]. It might also be suggested that there was a relative left/right split amongst the Swedish (defection of the EPP MEPs and division of the S&D delegation), the Czech (abstention of the EPP and ECR MEPs) and, to a lesser degree, amongst the British (defection of 9 ECR MEPs out of 25). Actually, these three countries are also quite critical of the CAP. [18] The defection of 6 German ALDE MEPs (out of 12), who voted against, might also be noted.

Amongst these three votes, a clear centre-left [19] coalition cannot really be observed but rather more heterogeneous ones: a grand coalition including the ECR or Greens/EFA groups or a leftwing coalition supported by part of the EPP group. Agricultural and social affairs are also areas where national sensitivities run high, though are not predominant. Likewise, the split between proponents and opponents of European integration is less evident.

5 Votes on External Relations

Although it has limited formal powers with regard to external relations, the Parliament involves itself through informal channels and in fact, it enjoys growing formal powers. Resolutions with regard to external relations, notably the so-called "emergency" resolutions are generally adopted by broad majorities, often counterbalanced by low turnout. However, this category provides three examples of more contested resolutions which had a greater or lesser impact on EU external relations.

5.1 Resolution on the implementation of the Goldstone recommendations on Israel and Palestine (10th March 2010)


A rare case of a politicised debate on foreign policy can be found in the non-legislative resolution that followed a debate with the Council and the Commission on the Goldstone Report. The report of 25th September 2009, written by the UN fact finding mission on the conflict in Gaza, criticised the war crimes committed by both sides in December 2008 but it was not approved by the UN General Assembly.
Whilst the political groups were negotiating a compromise text, the EPP group rejected it and tabled its own motion fifteen minutes before the motion delivery deadline. [21] This rather short motion asked the High Representative and Member States to "work towards a strong EU common position [...] publicly demanding the implementation of its recommendations"". [22]
This motion only rallied 243 votes in favour (93.8% on the part of the EPP) and was rejected by 364 votes (49.5% of the members, mainly the ALDE, S&D, Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL and ECR groups). However, there was no counter-majority since these groups also suffered division – 20% of the ALDE MEPs in particular abstained. Likewise the EFD, which abstained, was quite divided.
Finally, it was the "compromise" motion carried forward by the centre and left (S&D, ADLE, Greens/EFA and the GUE), which was adopted by 335 votes in favour, 287 against and 43 abstentions. Due to the late disengagement of the EPP, this motion had already included some of the latter's ideas and yet adopted a slightly more favourable position with regard to the Goldstone report even though it was considered as a clear approval. [23] This resolution was not the focus of a roll call vote even though the groups' positions can be estimated as being opposite to the vote on the EPP's motion.

5.2 Resolution on Kosovo's European Integration Process (8th July 2010)


Another controversial resolution concerned Kosovo. After three reports on Kosovo by the Commission's DG Enlargement, this resolution suggested the prospect of enlargement. One should recall that the European Parliament must approve accession treaties to the Union. This resolution was prepared by way of a report and was relatively more moderate than the resolution of 5th February 2009 which called for Kosovo's recognition. [25] The resolution of 8th July 2010 asked the Member States to define a common approach to Kosovo beyond the discussions over its status.
It won the approval of 62% of the MEPs and was rejected by 20.9%. The majority comprised the EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens/EFA and ECR groups and opposition came from the EFD, GUE/NGL groups and 88% of the non-attached members. While the EFD based their opposition on the question of the sovereignty of Member States to decide, the GUE/NGL group believed that the unilateral secession of Kosovo was illegal. The positions of MEPs from five other Member States (Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Romania, Slovakia) which did not recognise Kosovo might also be noted. If MEPs are grouped by Member States, four countries with an opposing majority can be noticed: the Cypriots (83.3% against), the Greeks (81.8% against), the Spaniards (82% against) and the Romanians (60.6% against). However, only 38.5% of Slovakian MEPs voted against the resolution, 23.1% approved it, 15% abstained and 23.1% did not vote. Tension such as this was just as visible amongst the Czech and Portuguese delegations. Overall it seems that there was a relative decline in the opposition of MEPs from the first 5 countries compared to the resolution of 5th February 2009 which was rejected by all of the Cypriots and the Greeks, 85.4% of the Spaniards, 79.2% of the Romanians and 63.6% of the Slovakians.

5.3 SWIFT Agreement (8th July 2010)


The third vote analysed here bears witness to Parliament's increasing decision making powers in terms of foreign policy thanks to the Lisbon Treaty whereby its powers to approve the treaties signed by the Union are extended [27]. In its first use of its new powers on 11th February 2010, Parliament rejected the initial version of the so-called SWIFT agreement on the exchange of banking data with the USA, by 378 votes against 196 with 31 abstentions. No roll call vote was requested, but a majority of the S&D, GUE/NGL and ALDE groups publically opposed it, whilst the EPP appeared to accept it [28]. This was a vote of institutional assertion, and the dimension of "data protection" seemed to be secondary even though a certain left/right split could be observed on this dimension.
The roll call vote of 8th July 2010 approving the renegotiated SWIFT agreement deserves our attention. Since they had achieved some guarantees, 66.2% of the MEPs approved it. The EPP, S&D, ALDE, ECR and EFD groups gave positive voting instructions whilst the Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL groups opposed it, arguing that the guarantees were inadequate. A high non-participation rate is to be noted: although 17.3% of MEPs did not vote on the resolution, if absent MEPs are not counted, the rate of MEPs present but who did not vote can be estimated at around 10%, [29] probably to avoid having to take a stance on this sensitive issue. Likewise, there were some significant defections such as the opposition of two EPP and three German S&D MEPs, some Swedish S&D members and a majority of Austrian MEPs against the agreement (56%), as these countries are extremely sensitive about matters pertaining to the protection of personal data.

Interestingly whilst foreign affairs are still mainly in the remit of the Member States, these three votes cannot really be analysed according to a split between proponents and opponents of European integration. It seems that there is rather more a grand centrist coalition in this area, except with regard to the Goldstone Report which is a rare case of politicisation at European level. However, the case of Kosovo invalidates the idea that "national interests" have disappeared in the European Parliament.

6 Votes on the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice

The vote on the SWIFT agreement also suggests that "Freedom, Security and Justice" (FSJ) issues, are increasingly politicised. Three other votes illustrate this phenomenon even though national sensitivities are still quite significant in this area.

6.1 The Stockholm Programme (25th November2009)


The Stockholm Programme is a five-year programme (2009-2014) put forward by the Swedish Presidency following a Commission communication. Although the resolution adopted on 25th November 2009 was non-legislative, Parliament tried to assert its position in the prospect of coming implementing decisions to be adopted under co-decision following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. This vote also can also be analysed in the context of difficult ongoing negotiations over the "Asylum Package". [31] During the debate, the programme had been favourably received by liberal MEPs rather concerned about fundamental freedoms, but it was criticised by MEPs from Southern Europe –notably the Italians and Maltese – as being inadequate regarding immigration. [32]
This resolution was therefore an exercise in compromise taking into consideration each group in Parliament, notably the EPP and the S&D, and especially with regard to asylum, the mutual acknowledgement of homosexual marriages and the funding for new prisons [33]. This explains the majority in favour (66.4 % of members) comprising the EPP, ALDE and S&D groups. 88.5% of EFD MEPs present and 100% of the ECR representatives present voted against it because of national sovereignty issues. [34]. Their reticence might explain the high level of opponents amongst the Czech MEPs taken as a whole (50% against) and the British MEPs (48.6% against), as they have a particularly high profile within these two groups. The GUE/NGL group voted against in the name of migrant rights. This argument also explained the abstention instruction of the Green group in spite of their visible influence over some provisions of the resolution. This instruction was followed by 67.9% of the Green MEPs present, 18.9% did however approve the resolution (all nationalities taken together) and 13.2% voted against it.
Finally it might be suggested that there was a split within the national delegation of one country – the Netherlands: not only was the resolution approved by the EPP, ALDE and S&D MEPs but also by the Greens/EFA and the GUE/NGL whilst the EFD, ECR and non-attached voted against it. This situation suggests a possible national split between proponents and opponents to European integration.

6.2 Freedom: Motions for a resolution on freedom of information in Italy and in the European Union (21st October 2009)

On 8th October, Parliament debated freedom of information in Italy with Commissioner Viviane Reding [35]. Since the subject was extremely politically sensitive, Parliament voted on 21st October 2009 on 9 motions tabled by different groups, without achieving a majority; the last vote on the ALDE resolution even ended in a draw of 338 votes in favour, 338 against and 8 abstentions. Two roll call votes are available on:
the motion tabled by the EPP, ECR and EFD groups (322 votes against, 297 for and 25 abstentions) [36];
and the motion tabled by the S&D, ALDE, Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL groups (338 votes against, 335 for and 13 abstentions). [37]
It is striking to see that the political groups supported their respective Italian delegations because the votes on both of these resolutions can be interpreted mainly according to a European left/right split: MEPs from the EPP, ECR and EFD groups voted for the first motion and against the second, whilst the MEPs from the S&D, ALDE, GUE/NGL and Greens/EFA groups voted against the first and for the second. The ALDE group is indeed more to the left on social issues. Those who were not present (absent or who did not vote) prevented the creation of a majority even though their decreasing share in the second vote suggests that each group had tried to rally its troops. The Belgian, Dutch, Swedish and two Finnish (out of four) EPP MEPs and the Finnish and Dutch EFD MEPs abstained in the first vote. Likewise, although there is no list available of the roll call vote, it would appear that the equal numbers on the last resolution tabled by the ALDE group can notably be explained by the defection of the Irish ALDE MEPs after pressure from their government [38]. This seems to suggest that there was national interference but that this was mostly expressed at the level of national delegations within the groups.

6.3 Justice: Approval of the enhanced cooperation agreement on divorce (16th June 2010)


In comparison, the last vote analysed here did not lead to such division. It concerned the approval of a draft Council decision enabling an enhanced cooperation agreement in the area of law applicable to divorce and legal separation. [40] This enhanced cooperation involves 14 Member States: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia.
As a condition set by the treaty [41], Parliament's approval was given by a broad majority (90.6% of the MEPs present, 83.4% of the members) with all groups calling for a vote in support except the EFD (without an official position) and the non-attached. indicates a higher percentage of MEPs following the majority of MEPs from their country compared to following the majority of their political group, without any real "national position" or defection of delegations ever really emerging. While 90% of MEPs of countries participating in the cooperation agreement voted in support, the rate of approval is down to72.9% for MEPs from non-participating countries with some defections, such as the abstention of Irish and Dutch EPP MEPs. No majority against emerged, however, when grouping MEPs by nationalities. For instance, amongst the British, for whom the Union's intervention in family law might have been considered as a sensitive issue, 22 conservatives out of 25 voted in favour (1 abstained) and although 4 liberals abstained, opposition only came from the highly Euro-sceptic non-attached and EFD MEPs. Hence it seems that the question of divorce, which is a sensitive issue in some Member States, did not really divide the Parliament this time round.

The emergence of a centre-left coalition with regard to civil liberties suggested by [42] can only be seen in one of three instances (freedom of information) but the three analyses show that national sensibilities seem less pre-eminent than expected in this area which is experiencing increasing communautarisation.

The 16 votes analysed here lead to two main conclusions and two rather more functional recommendations.

Firstly, this empirical study tends to confirm that voting in the European Parliament is leaning towards greater polarisation from a partisan point of view and this is in spite of the culture of compromise that has typified the institution for many years. It also confirms that Parliament mainly functions according to political logic and not according to the representation of national interest. Hence the percentage of MEPs voting according to a national position is only higher than MEPs voting according to partisan lines in two instances, with regard to Kosovo and the enhanced cooperation agreement – and even then only the first of these two instances reveals clear national alignment due to transpartisan "national interest".

Secondly, the analysis of these votes illustrates the co-existence of variable political majorities in the European Parliament:
a centre-right alliance in an economic vote (public finance) or a right alliance in a vote on civil liberties (the first motion for a resolution on the freedom of information in Italy);
a centre-left alliance in two instances (the Goldstone Report and the second motion for a resolution on the freedom of information in Italy) or a left alliance in one instance (lorry drivers' working time);
a grand centrist coalition (EPP, S&D and ALDE) in five instances notably on institutional issues, (the investiture of the Commission, the first reading of the 2010 budget, the adaptation of the number of MEPs, the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Stockholm Programme);
a grand extended coalition in eight other instances (the second reading of the 2010 budget, the European External Action Service, the directive on own resources, the Milk Market, the Copenhagen Summit, Kosovo, the SWIFT Agreement and the enhance cooperation agreement).

Parliament, and more generally, the EU's political system are not therefore monolithic institutions impermeable to pluralist opinion, but instead they offer regular opportunity for debate and contest based on a power struggle which is defined on the occasion of the European elections.
From this standpoint and from a more functional point of view, it seems that this study quite naturally leads to two recommendations:
Firstly, it will be because citizens are better informed about how their direct representatives and their political parties vote that they will find it easier to decipher European political stakes and feel encouraged to follow European political life more closely. It is quite naturally the Parliament's, MEPs' and the media's principal responsibility to reveal the existence of these political divisions.
Also, the present legislature might offer MEPs the opportunity to decide whether partisan approaches can prevail to a greater degree. Indeed the relative vigour in the expression of partisan splits in Parliament does not just depend on the results of the European elections. It also results from the voting rules in force within Parliament which often seem to impede the constitution of clear partisan majorities. The belief that it is now important to foster the expression of clear splits on voting should lead to a movement in support of change in these rules and the reduction of the necessary thresholds required to form a majority by opting as often as possible for the simple majority of the votes cast.

It remains to be seen whether the main groups in Parliament will be ready to follow this path to reform which will enable them to build legislature majorities and reduce the number of votes in which their back-up is vital. Most of the voting rules in Parliament are set by the treaties and are therefore intangible in the short term. Others, however, are set by internal rules, for example in terms of budgetary voting: MEPs might decide to amend this internal rule before requesting a later review of the treaties. This two-tiered change would enable Parliament to enter the partisan era in a more definite manner providing its choices with greater political coherence and visibility in the eyes of the citizens it is supposed to be representing.
[1] EP Resolution of 25 November 2010 on the EU strategy for the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change (COP 15), cf.<=en
[2] Explanation of vote of Mr. Matias on behalf of the GUE/NGL group, CRE 25/11/2009 - 7.5,
[3] Written explanation of vote of K. Syzmanski 's vote (ECR/PL), ibid.
[4] Data
[5] Annual Report 2010, op.cit., p.5.
[6] EP Legislative resolution on16th June 2010 on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2002/15/EC on the organisation of the working time of persons performing mobile road transport activities
[7] Karima Delli, "L'Europe sociale réussit son "crash-test" sur le temps de travail des chauffeurs routiers", Échos d'euro-écolos, 16/06/2010,
[8] "Amendment 1=29", cf.<=en
[10] "Parliament votes to limit truckers' working hours",, 17/06/2010,
[11] uses this term to describe a similar vote by all political parties from a Member State when one of the parties votes contrary to its political group. In this instance, does not speak of national alignment.
[12] EP Legislative resolution on 22nd October 2009 on the proposal for a Council regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 establishing a common organisation of agricultural markets and on specific provisions for certain agricultural products (single CMO Regulation) cf.<=en
[13] Article 43§2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)
[14] Article 37§2 of the Treaty of the European Community (TEC)
[15] EP, OEIL "22/10/2009 - EP: position, at first reading or single reading",
[16] Hix, 2009, op.cit., p.7.
[17] "CAP Reform Profile – Denmark"
[18] "CAP Reform Profile – Czech Republic", ; "CAP Reform Profile – Sweden",
[19] Annual Rapport, op.cit., pp.4-5.
[20] EP Resolution of 10th March 2010 on the implementation of the Goldstone recommendations on Israel and Palestine.
[21] Anonymous interview, 08/08/2010
[22] Motion by the EPP group, roll call vote on :<=en and
[23] P. Leigh, "Despite heavy lobbying, EU Parliament endorses Goldstone report", EUobserver, 10/03/2010,
[24] EP Resolution of 8th July 2010 on the European integration process of Kosovo cf.<=en
[25] See Bertoncini and Chopin, op.cit., 2009, pp. 58-60.
[26] EP Legislative resolution of 8th July 2010 on the draft Council decision on the conclusion of the Agreement between the EU and the USA on the processing and transfer of Financial Messaging Data from the EU to the USA for the purposes of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, cf.<=en
[27] Article 218 §6 a) TFEU.
[28] "Parliament divided ahead of SWIFT vote ", 04/02/2010,
[29] Indeed, absence in plenary (when the MEP does not sign the attendance list) can be distinguished from non-participation to a vote. Exceptionally does not provide data on the MEPs present but "who did not vote" but this rate is inferred from the plenary absence figures for the vote on the EEAS which took place on the same day.
[30] EP resolution of 25th November 2009 on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council – an area of Freedom, Security and Justice serving the citizen – Stockholm Programme,<=en
[31] S. Guillaume, "Révision de la directive européenne des procédures d'octroi d'asile : un exercice d'équilibriste", 19/03/2010,
[32] "Parliament split on 'progressive' Swedish immigration programme",, 12/11/2009,
[33] "Parliament approves Stockholm programme with prison add-ons", 26/11/2009,
[34] Explanation of vote of T. Kirkhope (ECR), EP, CRE 25/11/2009 - 7.6,
[35] "Freedom of Information in Italy (debate)", CRE 08/10/2009 -5
[38] interview under anonymity, Brussels, 10/10/2010
[39] European Parliament legislative resolution of 16 June 2010 on the draft Council decision authorising enhanced cooperation in the area of the law applicable to divorce and legal separation,<=en
[40] EP, OEIL, "12/07/2010 –Final Legislative Act"¬iceType=null&language=en
[41] Article 328§1 TFEU
[42] Annual Report, op.cit., p.5.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
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The authors
Thierry Chopin
Head of research of the Robert Schuman Foundation, associate professor at the Catholic University of Lille (ESPOL)
Camille Lépinay
Graduate of the Political Studies Institute Paris (Sciences Po) and of the College of Europe (Bruges).
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